Roy Ascott

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Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace? Author(s): Roy Ascott Source: Art Journal, Vol. 49, No. 3, Computers and Art: Issues of Content (Autumn, 1990), pp. 241-247 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/05/2011 20:46 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal.

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Page 1: Roy  Ascott

Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?Author(s): Roy AscottSource: Art Journal, Vol. 49, No. 3, Computers and Art: Issues of Content (Autumn, 1990),pp. 241-247Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 16/05/2011 20:46

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . .

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal.

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Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?

By Roy Ascott

he past decade has seen the two power- ful technologies of computing and

telecommunications converge into one field of operations that has drawn into its embrace other electronic media, including video, sound synthesis, remote sensing, and a variety of cybernetic systems. These phenomena are exerting enormous influ- ence upon society and on individual behav- ior; they seem increasingly to be calling into question the very nature of what it is to be human, to be creative, to think and to perceive, and indeed our relationship to each other and to the planet as a whole. The "telematic culture" that accompanies the new developments consists of a set of be- haviors, ideas, media, values, and objec- tives that are significantly unlike those that have shaped society since the Enlighten- ment. New cultural and scientific meta- phors and paradigms are being generated, new models and representations of reality are being invented, new expressive means are being manufactured.

Telematics is a term used to designate computer-mediated communications net- working involving telephone, cable, and satellite links between geographically dis- persed individuals and institutions that are interfaced to data-processing systems, re- mote sensing devices, and capacious data- storage banks. It involves the technology of interaction among human beings and between the human mind and artificial sys- tems of intelligence and perception. The individual user of networks is always po- tentially involved in a global net, and the world is always potentially in a state of interaction with the individual. Thus, across the vast spread of telematic net- works worldwide, the quantity of data pro- cessed and the density of information ex- changed is incalculable. The ubiquitous efficacy of the telematic medium is not in

doubt, but the question in human terms, from the point of view of culture and cre- ativity, is: What is the content?

This question, which seems to be at the heart of many critiques of art involving computers and telecommunications, sug- gests deep-seated fears of the machine coming to dominate the human will and of a technological formalism erasing human content and values. Apart from all the par- ticulars of personal histories, of dreams, desires, and anxieties that inform the con- tent of art's rich repertoire, the question, in essence, is asking: Is there love in the tele- matic embrace?

n the attempt to extricate human content from technological form, the question is

made more complicated by our increasing tendency as artists to bring together imag- ing, sound, and text systems into interac- tive environments that exploit state-of-the- art hypermedia and that engage the full sensorium, albeit by digital means. Out of this technological complexity, we can sense the emergence of a synthesis of the arts. The question of content must there- fore be addressed to what might be called the Gesamtdatenwerk-the integrated data work-and to its capacity to engage the intellect, emotions, and sensibility of the observer.2 Here, however, more prob- lems arise, since the observer in an interac- tive telematic system is by definition a participator. In a telematic art, meaning is not something created by the artist, distrib- uted through the network, and received by the observer. Meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system, the content of which is in a state of flux, of endless change and transforma- tion. In this condition of uncertainty and instability, not simply because of the criss- crossing interactions of users of the net-

work but because content is embodied in data that is itself immaterial, it is pure electronic difference, until it has been re- constituted at the interface as image, text, or sound. The sensory output may be dif- ferentiated further as existing on screen, as articulated structure or material, as archi- tecture, as environment, or in virtual space.

Such a view is in line with a more gen- eral approach to art as residing in a cul- tural communications system rather than in the art object as a fixed semantic configuration-a system in which the viewer actively negotiates for meaning.3 In this sense, telematic networking makes ex- plicit in its technology and protocols what is implicit in all aesthetic experience where that experience is seen as being as much creative in the act of the viewer's percep- tion as it is in the act of the artist's produc- tion.4 Classical communications theory holds, however, that communication is a one-way dispatch, from sender to receiver, in which only contingent "noise" in the channel can modify the message (often fur- ther confused as the meaning) initiated at the source of transmission.5 This is the model that has the artist as sender and therefore originator of meaning, the artist as creator and owner of images and ideas, the artist as controller of context and con- tent. It is a model that requires, for its completion, the viewer as, at best, a skilled decoder or interpreter of the artist's "meaning" or, at worst, simply a passive receptacle of such meaning. It gives rise to the industry of criticism and exegesis in which those who "understand" this or that work of art explain it to those who are too stupid or uneducated to receive its mean- ing unaided. In this scenario, the artwork and its maker are viewed in the same way as the world and its creator. The beauty and

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truth of both art and the world are "out there" in the world and in the work of art. They are as fixed and immutable as the material universe appears to be. The canon of determinism decrees prefigured har- mony and composition, regulated form and continuity of expression, with unity and clarity assured by a cultural consensus and a linguistic uniformity shared by artist and public alike.

he problem of content and meaning within a telematic culture gives added

poignancy to the rubric "Issues of Con- tent" under which this present writing on computers and art is developed: "issue" is open to a plurality of meanings, no one of which is satisfactory. The metaphor of a semantic sea endlessly ebbing and flow- ing, of meaning constantly in flux, of all words, utterances, gestures, and images in a state of undecidability, tossed to and fro into new collusions and conjunctions within a field of human interaction and negotiation, is found as much in new science-in quantum physics, second- order cybernetics,6 or chaology,7 for example-as in art employing telematic concepts or the new literary criticism that has absorbed philosophy and social theory into its practice. This sunrise of uncer- tainty, of a joyous dance of meaning be- tween layers of genre and metaphoric sys- tems, this unfolding tissue woven of a multiplicity of visual codes and cultural imaginations was also the initial promise of the postmodern project before it disap- peared into the domain of social theory, leaving only its frail corpus of pessimism and despair.

In the case of the physicists, the radical shift in metaphors about the world and our participation in its creation and redescrip- tion mean that science's picture window onto reality has been shattered by the very process of trying to measure it. John Wheeler uses this analogy succinctly:

Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as "sitting out there," with the observer safely separated from it by a 20- centimeter slab of plate glass. Even to observe so minuscule an object as an electron, he must shatter the glass. He must reach in. He must install his chosen measuring equip- ment. It is up to him whether he shall measure position or momentum ... the measurement changes the state of the electron. The universe will never afterwards be the same. To de- scribe what has happened one has to cross out that old word "observer" and put in its place "participator." In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.8

In the context of telematic systems and the issue of content and meaning, the parallel shift in art of the status of "observer" to that of "participator" is demonstrated clearly if in accounts of the quantum prin- ciple we substitute "data" for "quanta." Indeed, finding such analogies between art and physics is more than just a pleasant game; the web of connections between new models of theory and practice in the arts and the sciences, over a wide domain, is so pervasive as to suggest a paradigm shift in our world view, a redescription of reality and a recontextualization of ourselves. We begin to understand that chance and change, chaos and indeterminacy, tran- scendence and transformation, the imma- terial and the numinous are terms at the center of our self-understanding and our new visions of reality. How then, could there be a content-sets of meanings- contained within telematic art when every aspect of networking in dataspace is in a state of transformation and of becoming? The very technology of computer telecom- munications extends the gaze, transcends the body, amplifies the mind into un- predictable configurations of thought and creativity.

In the recent history of Western art, it was Marcel Duchamp who first took the metaphor of the glass, of the window onto the world, and turned it back on itself to reveal what is invisible. We see in the work known as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass, a field of vitreous reality in which energy and emotion are generated from the ten- sion and interaction of male and female, natural and artificial, human and ma- chine.9 Its subject is attraction in Charles Fourier's sense,10 or, we might even say, love. The Large Glass, in its transparent essence, always includes both its environ- ment and the reflection of the observer. Love is contained in this total embrace; all that escapes is reason and certainty. By participating in the embrace, the viewer comes to be a progenitor of the semantic issue. The glass as "ground" has a func- tion and status anticipating that of the com- puter monitor as a screen of operations- of transformations-and as the site of in- teraction and negotiation for meaning. But it is not only through the Glass that we can see Duchamp as prophetic of the telematic mode. The very metaphor of networking interaction in a field of uncertainty, in which the observer is creator and meaning is unstable, is implicit in all his work. Equally prophetic in the Glass is the hori- zontal bar that joins the upper and lower parts of the work and serves as a metaphor for the all-around viewing, the inclusive, all-embracing scope of its vision. This stands in opposition to the vertical, head- to-toe viewing of Renaissance space, em- bodied in the Western pictorial tradition,

where the metaphor of verticality is em- ployed insistently in its monuments and architecture-emblems often as not of ag- gression, competition, and dominance, al- ways of a tunnel vision. The horizontal, on the other hand, is a metaphor for the bird's- eye view, the all-over, all-embracing, ho- listic systems view of structures, relation- ships, and events-viewing that can in- clude the ironic, the fuzzy, and the ambiguous. This is precisely the condition of perception and insight to which telema- tic networking aspires.

Perhaps the most powerful metaphor of interconnectedness and the horizontal em- brace in art before the advent of telematic media is to be found in the work of Jackson Pollock.'l Here the horizontal arena, a space marked out on the surface of the earth, is the "ground" for the action and transformation that become the painting itself. Pollock created his powerful meta- phors of connectedness by generating fields of intertwining, interweaving, bran- ching, joining, colliding, crossing, linking lines of energy. His space is inclusive and inviting, his imagery carries a sense of anonymity of authorship that embraces the viewer in the creation of meaning. Nothing in painting could be more emblematic or prophetic of the network consciousness emerging with the telematic culture.

his provenance of telematic culture, as spiritual or transcendent in its force as

the Navajo sand painting to which it, in turn, owes allegiance, is perhaps more readily understood if we are able to see the ubiquitous spread of computer communi- cations networks across the face of the earth as constituting what in many esoteric traditions of both East and West would be called a "subtle body" 12-a psychic enve- lope for the planet, a telematic noosphere, in Teilhard de Chardin's terms,13 or what Gregory Bateson would have described as "mind-at-large."14 Peter Russell de- scribes the emergence of a planetary consciousness:

As communications networks in- crease, we will eventually reach a point where the billions of informa- tion exchanges, shuttling through the networks at any one time, can create coherence in the global brain, similar to those found in the human brain. 15

This suggests equally the need for a re- description of human consciousness as it emerges from the developing symbiosis of the human mind and the artificial thought of parallel distributed processing (PDP).16

If one of the great rituals of emergence into a new world-that of the American Indian Hopi-is centered around the sa- cred sipapu that connects to the Under- world of power and transformation, so our

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emergence into the new world of telematic culture similarly calls for celebration at the interface to those PDP systems that can link us with superconnectivity, mind to mind, into a new planetary community. And just as the Hopi seek to exploit the full measure of their expressive means by join- ing image, music, chant, and dance into a holistic unity, so we too now seek a syn- thesis of digital modes-image, sound, text, and cybernetic structure-by which to recontextualize our own world, that nu- minous whole of all our separate realities.

The emerging new order of art is that of interactivity, of "dispersed authorship";17 the canon is one of contingency and uncer- tainty. Telematic art encompasses a wide array of media: hypermedia, videotex, telefacsimile, interactive video, computer animation and simulation, teleconferenc- ing, text exchange, image transfer, sound synthesis, telemetry and remote sensing, virtual space, cybernetic structures, and intelligent architecture. These are simply broad categories of technologies and meth- odologies that are constantly evolving- bifurcating, joining, hybridizing-at an accelerated rate.

At the same time, the status of the art object changes. The culturally dominant objet d'art as the sole focus (the uncom- mon carrier of uncommon content) is re- placed by the interface. Instead of the art- work as a window onto a composed, resolved, and ordered reality, we have at the interface a doorway to undecidability, a dataspace of semantic and material poten- tiality. The focus of the aesthetic shifts from the observed object to participating subject, from the analysis of observed sys- tems to the (second-order) cybernetics of observing systems: the canon of the imma- terial and participatory. Thus, at the inter- face to telematic systems, content is cre- ated rather than received. By the same token, content is disposed of at the inter- face by reinserting it, transformed by the process of interaction, back into the net- work for storage, distribution, and even- tual transformation at the interface of other users, at other access nodes across the planet.

A telematic network is more than the sum of its parts, more than a computer communications web. The new order of perception it constitutes can be called "global vision," since its distributed sen- sorium and distributed intelligence- networked across the whole planet as well as reaching remotely into galactic space and deep into quantum levels of matter- together provide for a holistic, integrative viewing of structures, systems, and events that is global in its scope. This artificial extension of human intelligence and per- ception, which the neural nets of PDP and sophisticated remote-sensing systems pro- vide,18 not only amplifies human percep-

tion but is in the process of changing it. The transformation is entirely consistent with the overarching ambition of both art and science throughout this century: to make the invisible visible. Even now, it must be recognized that our human cogni- tive processes (whether involving linear or associative thought, imaging, remember- ing, computing, or hypothesizing) are rarely carried out without the computer being involved.19 A great proportion of the time that we are involved in communicat- ing, learning, or being entertained entails our interaction with telecommunications systems.20 Similarly, with feeling and sen- sing, artificial, intelligent sensors of con- siderable subtlety are becoming integral to human interaction with the environment and to the monitoring of both internal and external ecologies. Human perception, un- derstood as the product of active negotia- tion rather than passive reception, thus re- quires, within this evolving symbiosis of human/machine, telematic links of consid- erable complexity between the very div- erse nodes of the worldwide artificial reti- cular sensorium.

T elematic culture means, in short, that we do not think, see, or feel in isola-

tion. Creativity is shared, authorship is distributed, but not in a way that denies the individual her authenticity or power of self- creation, as rather crude models of collec- tivity might have done in the past. On the contrary, telematic culture amplifies the in- dividual's capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense experi- ence, for more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the produc- tion of global vision through networked interaction with other minds, other sensi- bilities, other sensing and thinking sys- tems across the planet-thought circulat- ing in the medium of data through a multiplicity of different cultural, geo- graphical, social, and personal layers. Net- working supports endless redescription and recontextualization such that no lan- guage or visual code is final and no reality is ultimate. In the telematic culture, plur- alism and relativism shape the config- urations of ideas-of image, music, and text-that circulate in the system.

It is the computer that is at the heart of this circulation system, and, like the heart, it works best when least noticed-that is to say, when it becomes invisible. At present, the computer as a physical, material pres- ence is too much with us; it dominates our inventory of tools, instruments, appli- ances, and apparatus as the ultimate ma- chine. In our artistic and educational envi- ronments it is all too solidly there, a computational block to poetry and imag- ination. It is not transparent, nor is it yet fully understood as pure system, a univer- sal transformative matrix. The computer is

not primarily a thing, an object, but a set of behaviors, a system, actually a system of systems. Data constitute its lingua franca. It is the agent of the datafield, the construc- tor of dataspace. Where it is seen simply as a screen presenting the pages of an illumi- nated book, or as an internally lit painting, it is of no artistic value. Where its consider- able speed of processing is used simply to simulate filmic or photographic represen- tations, it becomes the agent of passive voyeurism. Where access to its transforma- tive power is constrained by a typewriter keyboard, the user is forced into the pos- ture of a clerk. The electronic palette, the light pen, and even the mouse bind us to past practices. The power of the com- puter's presence, particularly the power of the interface to shape language and thought, cannot be overestimated. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the "con- tent" of a telematic art will depend in large measure on the nature of the interface; that is, the kind of configurations and assem- blies of image, sound, and text, the kind of restructuring and articulation of environ- ment that telematic interactivity might yield, will be determined by the freedoms and fluidity available at the interface.

The essence of the interface is its poten- tial flexibility; it can accept and deliver images both fixed and in movement, sounds constructed, synthesized, or sam- pled, texts written and spoken. It can be heat sensitive, body responsive, environ- mentally aware. It can respond to the tap- ping of the feet, the dancer's arabesque, the direction of a viewer's gaze. It not only articulates a physical environment with movement, sound, or light; it is an envi- ronment, an arena of dataspace in which a distributed art of the human/computer symbiosis can be acted out, the issue of its cybernetic content. Each individual com- puter interface is an aspect of a telematic unity such that to be in or at any one interface is to be in the virtual presence of all the other interfaces throughout the net- work of which it is a part. This might be defined as the "holomatic" principle in networking. It is so because all the data flowing through any access node of the network are equally and at the same time held in the memory of that network: they can be accessed, through cable or satellite links, from any part of the planet at any time of day or night, by users of the net- work (who, in order to communicate with each other, do not need to be in the same place at the same time).

This holomatic principle was well dem- onstrated during the Venice Biennale of 1986, when the "Planetary Network" project had the effect of pulling the exhibi- tion from its rather elite, centralized, and exclusive domain in Venice and stretching it out over the face of the globe;21 the flow of creative data generated by the interac-

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Figure 1 View of the "Laboratory Ubiqua" (planetary networking and computer- mediated systems), Venice Biennale, 1986.

Figure 2 Roy Ascott, Organe etfonction dAlice aux pays des merveilles, 1985, videotex. From the "Les Immateriaux" exhibition, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1985.

tion of artists networking all over the world was accessible everywhere (fig. 1). Set within the interactive environment "Labo- ratory Ubiqua," a wide range of telematic media was involved, including electronic mail, videotex, digital-image exchange, slow-scan TV, and computer conferencing. Interactive videodiscs, remote sensing systems, and cybernetic structures were also included.

On a simpler and publicly more access- ible level, the telematic project devised by Art Acces for the exhibition "Les Imma-

teriaux" at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1985 can be cited for its effective use of a domestic terminal interfacing a public vid- eotex service (fig. 2). It involved the use of the French national Minitel system as the network for on-line interaction between artists "in" the exhibition and the large population of Minitel subscribers distrib- uted throughout the greater Paris region. In this case the cultural interface had devel- oped from its humble beginnings as an on- line telephone-directory terminal (in- stalled free for PTT subscribers in place of

the traditional and costly annual issue of printed directories), through its acceler- ated development as a consumer and mar- keting tool, to a games machine, a refer- ence library, a dating service, and now an instrument of the new art.

Earlier, in 1983, for the exhibition "Electra" at the Musee d'Art Modere de la Ville de Paris, the interface for the inter- national telematic project La Plissure du texte (a planetary fairy tale created by means of a "dispersed authorship" through electronic networking) involved little more than the orthodox computer ter- minal and keyboard.22 A data projector carried the text to a public dimension, dra- matizing its electronic presence, which was at once ephemeral and concrete. With many participants on line throughout America, Europe, and Australia, this was a perfect vehicle to involve both artists and public in the layering of texts and in the semantic ambiguities, delights, and sur- prises that can be generated by an interac- tive authorship dispersed throughout so many cultures in so many remote parts of the world. Like most telematic projects of the early 1980s, however, the project was limited to the text for technical and finan- cial as much as for conceptual reasons.

A more elaborate and complex multi- media interface was created for the project Aspects of Gaia: Digital Pathways across the Whole Earth as part of the Ars Elec- tronica Festival of Art and Technology in Linz, Austria, in 1989.23 The transmission of digital image and sound by file transfer and the computer storage of telefacsimile material via modem, by this time econom- ically feasible, invited the creation of a more dramatic and engaging environment for public participation. Invitations to par- ticipate in the project were e-mailed, faxed, or airmailed to "artists, scientists, poets, shamen [sic], musicians, architects, visionaries, aboriginal artists of Australia, native artists of the Americas." The sub- ject of the project was the many aspects of the earth, Gaia, seen from a multiplicity of spiritual, scientific, cultural, and myth- ological perspectives. An energizing stream of integrated digital images, texts, and sounds (a Gesamtdatenwerk) would then constitute a kind of invisible cloak, a digital noosphere that might contribute to the harmonization of the planet. In access- ing the meridians at various nodes, partici- pants became involved in a form of global acupuncture, their interactions endlessly transforming and reconstituting the world- wide flow of creative data.

Congruent with the structural form of the Brucknerhaus (site of the festival) as a metaphor of curving space-time, the public-interface installation in Linz was on two levels, reflecting the layering of mate- rial that the project was intended to gener- ate. The upper level investigated the poten-

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tial of the digital screen seen on the horizontal, large-scale format, rather than the more familiar vertical monitor presen- tation (fig. 3). Giving the public a bird's- eye view of images networked in from all over the planet (fig. 4), the large horizontal screens were set into "information bars" around which viewers could sit-on high stools, as if at a cocktail bar-gazing not into an alcoholic haze but into pure dataspace. The networked images that ap- peared were then changed by means of acoustic sensors fed to appropriate soft- ware (in the form of small microphones set on the counter top of the bar) or were modified with line and color by means of a mouse manipulated by the viewer across the counter top. Thus, interaction by voice and gesture led to the creation of new im- ages that could then be retrieved by the computer and stored pending their even- tual insertion back into the planetary network.

The interface on the lower level involved a railway track curving through a long, low tunnel that flanked the building, carrying a flatbed trolley (upholstered not unlike an analyst's couch), which enabled each par- ticipant to glide effortlessly through a darkened acoustical space, looking up at a series of flickering LED signs scrolling texts drawn from the network of inputs all over the world. This was Gaia's womb, a kind of telematic, neolithic passageway (fig 5).

The design and production of the inter- face as a whole-involving the collabora- tion of artists and technicians working with

Figure 3 Roy Ascott, Aspects of Gaia (upper level), 1989, computer-mediated interactive installation. From the "Ars Electronica" exhibition, Linz, Austria, 1989.

digital sound and image, electroacoustical and mechanical structures, and software design-was achieved "remotely" by computer-conference networking among their widely dispersed geographical loca- tions. The same telematic process of de- sign and consultation through international networks was involved in the preparation

of La Plissure du texte for "Electra" and of the "Planetary Network" and the "Labo- ratory Ubiqua" in Venice. It is a process that is at the center of much research, de- velopment, design, production, and pre- sentation in many fields of artistic and sci- entific endeavor.24 It is also a process that can include the client, consumer, user, or viewer from the very start. In the telematiz- ation of the creative process, the roles of artist and viewer, designer and consumer, become diffused; the polarities of maker and user become destabilized. This will lead ultimately, no doubt, to changes in status, description, and use of cultural in- stitutions: a redescription (and revitaliza- tion, perhaps) of the academy, museum, gallery, archive, workshop, and studio. A fusion of art, science, technology, educa- tion, and entertainment into a telematic fabric of learning and creativity can be foreseen.

To the objection that such a global vi- sion of an emerging planetary art is

uncritically euphoric, or that the pros- pectus of a telematic culture with its Ges- amtdatenwerk of hypermediated virtual re- alities is too grandiose, we should perhaps remind ourselves of the essentially politi- cal, economic, and social sensibilities of those who laid the conceptual foundations of the field of interactive systems. This cultural prospectus implies a telematic politic, embodying the features of feed- back, self-determination, interaction, and collaborative creativity not unlike the "science of government" for which, over

Figure 4 Miles Visman, computer-generated image for the Aspects of Gaia project by Roy Ascott. From the "Ars Electronica" exhibition, Linz, Austria, 1989.

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Figure 5 Roy Ascott, Aspects of Gaia (lower level), 1989, computer-mediated interactive installation. From the "Ars Electronica" exhibition, Linz, Austria, 1989.

150 years ago, Andre Marie Ampere coined the term "cybernetics"-a term re- invigorated and humanized by Norbert Wiener in this century.25 Contrary to the rather rigid determinism and positivism that have shaped society since the Enlight- enment, however, these features will have to accommodate notions of uncertainty, chaos, autopoiesis, contingency, and the second-order cybernetics or fuzzy-systems view of a world in which the observer and observed, creator and viewer, are inex- tricably linked in the process of making reality-all our many separate realities in- teracting, colliding, re-forming, and reso- nating within the telematic noosphere of the planet.

VW ithin these separate realities, the sta- tus of the "real" in the phenomenol-

ogy of the artwork also changes. Virtual space, virtual image, virtual reality-these are categories of experience that can be shared through telematic networks, allow- ing for movement through "cyberspace" and engagement with the virtual presence of others who are in their corporeal mate- riality at a distance, physically inaccess- ible or otherwise remote.26 The adoption of a headset, DataGlove, or other data wear can make the personal connec- tion to cyberspace-socialization in

hyperreality-wherein interaction with others will undoubtedly be experienced as "real," and the feelings and perceptions so generated will also be "real." The passage from real to virtual will probably be seam- less, just as social behavior derived from human-computer symbiosis is flowing un- noticed into our consciousness. But the very ease of transition from "reality" to "virtuality" will cause confusion in cul- ture, in values, and in matters of personal identity. It will be the role of the artist, in collaboration with scientists, to establish not only new creative praxes but also new value systems, new ordinances of human interaction and social communicability. The issue of content in the planetary art of this emerging telematic culture is therefore the issue of values, expressed as transient hypotheses rather than finalities, tested within the immaterial, virtual, hyper- realities of dataspace. Integrity of the work will not be judged by the old aesthetics; no antecedent criteria can be applied to net- work creativity since there is no previous canon to accommodate it. The telematic process, like the technology that embodies it, is the product of a profound human desire for transcendence: to be out of body, out of mind, beyond language. Virtual space and dataspace constitute the domain, previously provided by myth and religion,

where imagination, desire, and will can reengage the forces of space, time, and matter in the battle for a new reality.

The digital matrix that brings all new electronic and optical media into its

telematic embrace-being a connectionist model of hypermedia-calls for a "con- nective criticism." The personal computer yields to the interpersonal computer. Serial data processing becomes parallel distrib- uted processing. Networks link memory bank to memory bank, intelligence to in- telligence. Digital image and digital sound find their common ground, just as a syn- thesis of modes-visual, tactile, textual, acoustic, environment-can be expected to "hypermediate" the networked sensi- bilities of a constellation of global cul- tures. The digital camera-gathering still and moving images from remote sensors deep in space, or directed by human or artificial intelligence on earth, seeking out what is unseen, imaging what is invisible-meets at a point between our own eyes and the reticular retina of world- wide networks, stretching perception lat- erally away from the tunnel vision, from the Cartesian sight lines of the old deter- ministic era. Our sensory experience be- comes extrasensory, as our vision is en- hanced by the extrasensory devices of

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telematic perception. The computer deals invisibly with the invisible. It processes those connections, collusions, systems, forces and fields, transformations and transferences, chaotic assemblies, and higher orders of organization that lie out- side our vision, outside the gross level of material perception afforded by our natural senses. Totally invisible to our everyday unaided perception, for example, is the underlying fluidity of matter, the indeter- minate dance of electrons, the "snap, crackle, and pop" of quanta, the tunneling and transpositions, nonlocal and super- luminal, that the new physics presents. It is these patterns of events, these new exhilarating metaphors of existence- nonlinear, uncertain, layered, and dis- continuous-that the computer can re- describe. With the computer, and brought together in the telematic embrace, we can hope to glimpse the unseeable, to grasp the ineffable chaos of becoming, the secret order of disorder. And as we come to see more, we shall see the computer less and less. It will become invisible in its imma- nence, but its presence will be palpable to the artist engaged telematically in the


1 The neologism "telematique" was coined by Si- mon Nora and Alain Minc in L'Informatisation de la societe (Paris: La Documentation Frangaise, 1978), 2.

2 The German word "Gesamtkunstwerk" was used by Richard Wagner to refer to his vision of a "total artwork" integrating music, image, and poetry.

3 Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), 4.

4 Roland Barthes, "From Work to Text," in Image- Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 4.

5 C. E. Shannon and W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949), 4.

6 Heinz von Foerster, Observing Systems (New York: Intersystems, 1981), 5.

7 James Gleick, Chaos (New York: Heinneman, 1987), 5.

8 J. A. Wheeler and W. H. Zurek, Quantum Theory and Measurement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), 6.

9 See Michel Sanouillet, ed., Salt Seller: The Writ- ings of Marcel Duchamp, (Marchand du Sel) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 7.

world process of autopoiesis, planetary self-creation.

he technology of computerized media and telematic systems is no longer to

be viewed simply as a set of rather compli- cated tools extending the range of painting and sculpture, performed music, or pub- lished literature. It can now be seen to support a whole new field of creative en- deavor that is as radically unlike each of those established artistic genres as they are unlike each other. A new vehicle of con- sciousness, of creativity and expression, has entered our repertoire of being. While it is concerned with both technology and poetry, the virtual and the immaterial as well as the palpable and concrete, the tele- matic may be categorized as neither art nor science, while being allied in many ways to the discourses of both. The further devel- opment of this field will clearly mean an interdependence of artistic, scientific, and technological competencies and aspira- tions and, urgently, on the formulation of a transdisciplinary education.

So, to link the ancient image-making process of Navajo sand painting to the digi-

10 Charles Fourier (1772-1837). His "system of

passionate attraction" (elaborated in Theorie des

quatres mouvements et des destinees generales [Paris: Bureaux de la Phalange, 1841], 7) sought universal harmony.

11 Elizabeth Frank, Jackson Pollock (New York: Ab- beville Press, 1983), 8.

12 David V. Tansley, Subtle Body (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 9.

13 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 9.

14 Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind

(San Francisco: Chandler Press, 1972), 9. 15 Peter Russell, The Awakening Earth (London:

Routledge, 1982), 9. 16 James L. McClelland, David E. Rummelhart, and

the PDP Research Group, Parallel Distributed

Processing, vol. 1 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), 10.

17 The term was first proposed in Roy Ascott, "Art and Telematics: Towards a Network Con- sciousness," in Art Telecommunications, ed. Heidi Grundmann (Vancouver: Western Front, 1984), 10.

18 Paul J. Curran, Principles of Remote Sensing (New York: Longman, 1985).

19 Stephen R. Graubard, ed., The Artificial Intel-

tal imaging of moder supercomputers through common silicon, which serves them both as pigment and processor chip, is more than ironic whimsy. The holistic ambition of Native American culture is paralleled by the holistic potentiality of telematic art. More than a technological expedient for the interchange of informa- tion, networking provides the very infra- structure for spiritual interchange that could lead to the harmonization and cre- ative development of the whole planet. With this prospectus, however naively op- timistic and transcendental it may appear in our current fin-de-siecle gloom, the metaphor of love in the telematic embrace may not be entirely misplaced.

Roy Ascott, Gastprofessor and founding head of the Lehrkanzelfiir Kommunika- tionstheorie at the Hochschulefiir ange- wandte Kunst in Vienna, is also head of fine art at Gwent College of Higher Educa- tion in Wales. He is currently guest editing a special issue of the journal Leonardo on art and telecommunications.

ligence Debate (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988). 20 Koji Kobayashi, Computers and Communications

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986). 21 Roy Ascott, "Art, Technology and Computer Sci-

ence," in XLII Esposizione Internazionale dArte (Venice: Biennale di Venezia, 1986), 17. The in- ternational commissioners for the 1986 Biennale were Roy Ascott, Don Foresta, Tom Sherman, and Tomaso Trini.

22 Roy Ascott, "La Plissure du texte," in Frank Pop- per, ed., Electra (Paris: Musde d'Art Modere de la Ville de Paris, 1983), 18.

23 Roy Ascott, "Gesamtdatenwerk: Konnektivitit, Transformation und Transzendenz," in Kunst- forum 103 (September/October 1989): 18 (project by Roy Ascott in collaboration with Peter Ap- pleton, Mathias Fuchs, Robert Pepperell, and Miles Visman).

24 Stewart Brand, The Media Lab (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987), 21.

25 Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics or Control and Com- munication in the Animal and Machine (Cam- bridge: MIT Press, 1948), 22.

26 VPL Research, Inc., of California demonstrated "shared virtual reality" and "walk-through cy- berspace" at Texpo '89 in San Francisco, June 1989.

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